Swift Strides of Science: Human Biology Student Outpaces Opponents in the Canal Run

Ingrid Seagren
Ingrid Seagren, Canal Run Winner and Human Bio Major

Ingrid Seagren competed in the Canal Run 5K, winning the women’s category and finishing 5th overall. She is going into her sophomore year pursuing a major in Human Biology with minors in pre-health and German. After she graduates, she plans to go to medical school and eventually become a physician. Plus, Ingrid is very active in the local community: 2023 Strawberry Fest Queen candidate, Michigan Tech Cross Country and Track and Field runner, and outdoor enthusiast.

Ingrid has volunteered with the Let’s Eat Community Meals through her church. As a high school student, she was a member of the Interact Club and was involved in numerous service activities, such as making Veteran’s Day Baskets and hosting Fun Days for elementary school students.

Ingrid is also a good student. She was named to Michigan Tech’s Dean’s List in both the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters and was recognized as a member of the Fall 2022 GLIAC Academic All-Excellence Team. As a high school student, she was a member of the National Honor Society.

In her free time, Ingrid enjoys Nordic skiing, waterskiing, hiking, and spending time with friends and family. Congratulations to Ingrid on her running, community and academic accomplishments!

Amy Marcarelli is the recipient of MTU’s 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Associate Professor/Professor category 

Amy Marcarelli
Amy Marcarelli

Amy Marcarelli is a professor of biological sciences and an ecosystem ecologist with an interest in energy and biogeochemical cycles in freshwater bodies. She received her bachelor’s in biology from Colgate University and her Ph.D. in ecology from Utah State. She is the director of both the Ecosystem Science Center and the Aquatic Analysis (AQUA) shared facility at Michigan Tech. Her research applies across aquatic habitats, including streams, rivers, wetlands, lake littoral zones — the sloping area where sunlight reaches from the lake’s surface all the way to the sediment, located between the shore and deeper water — and the nearshore regions of the Great Lakes.

“Amy Marcarelli is a true example of the teacher-scholar model. She maintains an active research program studying ecology of aquatic ecosystems and has administrative duties as the director of our Ecosystem Science Center on campus. Yet she also devotes vast time and talent to doing an outstanding job in the classroom, introducing our students to the remarkable ecology of Lake Superior, involving them by the dozens in research in her laboratory, and preparing students for graduate school and careers. Michigan Tech is fortunate to have Dr. Marcarelli on our faculty.”

David Hemmer, Dean of the Michigan Tech College of Sciences and Arts

Catherine Rono Receives 2023 Songer Research Award

Matthew Songer (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA). This will be used to support a research project competition, the Songer Research Award for Human Health, for undergraduate and graduate students. Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. This is the sixth year of the competition.

Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have a broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. The Songers’ gift will support one award for undergraduate research ($4,000) and a second award for graduate research ($6,000). Matching funds from the College will allow two additional awards.

Catherine Rono
Catherine Rono

What are you studying and why?

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences with a specialization in Cancer Biology. My decision to focus on Cancer Biology stems from a profound passion and unwavering interest in cancer research. I strongly believe that advancing scientific knowledge in this field is crucial for improving human health and making a significant impact on society.

Having witnessed the devastating effects of cancer firsthand, I was deeply motivated to dedicate my career to understanding and combating this disease. The global impact of cancer and the challenges it presents have only intensified my determination to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those affected. Being part of the scientific community and working towards finding solutions to this global health concern is both a privilege and a responsibility that I take to heart.

Are you getting the award to continue your research?

I am truly honored to be selected as the recipient of the 2023 Songer Research Award for Human Health in the amount of $6,000. This prestigious award will support my research that aims to understand the mechanisms associated with the loss of Liver Kinase B1 (LKB1) function in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). Specifically, I aim to examine the effect of LKB1 loss in sensitizing NSCLC cell lines to Phosphodiesterases 3A (PDE3A) modulators and its role in tumorigenesis. Through these investigations, I hope to uncover valuable insights that will aid in proposing novel biomarker candidates for the treatment of patients with LKB1-deficient cancers. Ultimately, this study will help to contribute to the advancement of personalized and effective therapeutic approaches.

What does the Songer Award mean to you?

This prestigious award holds immense significance for me as it validates the importance of my research and also provides the necessary resources to further contribute to this vital field of study.

I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Matthew Songer and Laura Songer for their generous donation and their commitment to supporting groundbreaking research in human health. The confidence and trust that has been placed in me through this award inspires me to push the boundaries of scientific exploration and strive for excellence in my work.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the esteemed panel of judges and reviewers who evaluated the applications. Their time, expertise, and dedication are greatly appreciated.

Lastly, I am indebted to my mentor, colleagues, research team, and the entire Biological Sciences Department for their guidance, encouragement, and invaluable contributions. Their support has been instrumental in the progress I have made thus far. I look forward to their continued collaboration as I continue with my research journey.

Catherine Rono is an HRI Fellowship Winner

Catherine Rono HRI Fellowship
Catherine Rono HRI Fellowship Winner

Ph.D. Student in Biological Sciences, Catherine Rono, continues to be recognized for excellence. Rono is the winner of the Summer 2023 HRI Graduate Student Fellowship.

Rono stood out among the applicants. Rono published a first-author peer-reviewed article, “A dynamic compartment model for xylem loading and long-distance transport of iron explains the effect of kanamycin on metal uptake in Arabidopsis,” following her undergraduate years at Spelman College. She also won several awards and scholarships.

“The proposal is to screen essential molecules that work together with PDE3-modulator to induce apoptosis of LKB1-mutated tumor cells and to understand the molecular mechanism. The findings are likely useful for precise applications of target therapy relating to the LKB1-regulated cellular metabolisms,” said the award committee. “The project is clearly laid out.”

Health Research Institute (HRI) Graduate Fellowships were created to assist with the cost of graduate studies. Fellowships are awarded three times per year in the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms, with a limit of one award per student of up to $5000 to be used in one semester. 

What are you studying and why?

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences with a focus on Cancer Biology. My decision to focus on this field is deeply rooted in a personal experience I had during my childhood, where I witnessed my beloved aunt battle against ovarian cancer, which tragically claimed her life. This traumatic event left an indelible mark on me and sparked an unwavering passion to make a meaningful contribution to cancer research.

Through my research, I aim to uncover the complexities of this disease and develop innovative approaches for its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. I hope to contribute to the growing body of knowledge in the field of cancer, working towards improved patient outcomes and, ultimately, a future where cancer is no longer a devastating threat. It is my firm belief that by dedicating myself to this field, I can honor the memory of my aunt and positively impact the lives of countless individuals and families affected by cancer.

Do you plan to continue research with this award?

I am incredibly grateful and honored to have been chosen as the recipient of the Summer 2023 HRI Graduate Fellowship award in the amount of $5,000. This prestigious recognition will provide invaluable support for my research work focused on exploring and uncovering novel metabolic components and biomarkers within the Liver Kinase B1 (LKB1) signaling pathway.

Through rigorous experimentation and analysis, I aim to elucidate the regulatory functions of LKB1 in suppressing the expression of key proteins associated with promoting apoptosis. By unraveling these intricate mechanisms, my research findings have the potential to make substantial contributions to the development of targeted therapies, and personalized medicine approaches for the treatment of patients with LKB1 mutated cancers. The ability to tailor treatments to individual patients based on their specific genetic profiles and molecular characteristics holds great promise for improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden of cancer worldwide.

What does the HRI Fellowship mean to you?

The HRI Graduate Fellowship award is a tremendous honor and a testament to the significance and potential impact of my research work. It not only acknowledges the value of my research but also provides the necessary resources and connections to further drive my work forward. I am deeply grateful for this recognition and committed to utilizing this opportunity to make a meaningful and lasting impact in the field of cancer research.

Furthermore, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the entire HRI community, my mentor, my colleagues, the research team, and the Biological Sciences Department. I am truly fortunate to be surrounded by such brilliant and dedicated individuals. Their encouragement and support have been instrumental in my growth as a researcher.

Biological Sciences Faculty Members Receive Exceptional Spring 2023 Student Evaluation Scores

Heartiest congratulations to the following 10 instructors from the Biological Sciences Department who have been identified as some of the only 74 campus-wide instructors who received exceptional “Average of Seven dimensions” student evaluation scores during the Spring 2023 semester.

Only 89 sections university-wide (out of more than 1,411 evaluated) were rated so highly by the students. Their scores were in the top 10% of similarly sized sections university-wide, with at least a 50% response rate and a minimum of five responses.

Provost Storer recently congratulated them for their outstanding accomplishments in teaching.  

The following faculty/staff/graduate students received the recognition based on an average of 7 elements of a university-wide class size group with a response rate of >50% on student evaluations of their lecture/lab classes:

  • Dr. Casey Huckins, Professor and Associate Chair
  • Ms. Brigitte Morin, MS, Associate Teaching Professor (Winner of MTU teaching award in 2018)
  • Dr. Gordon Paterson, Assistant Professor
  • Ms. Claire Danielson, MS, MLS Program Director, and Assistant Teaching Professor (Nominated for the MTU teaching award, 2022 and 2023)
  • Ms. Sarah LewAllen, MS, MLS Program Coordinator
  • Ms. Jenna Disser, MS Graduate Student
  • Mr. Karl Schneider, Ph.D. Graduate Student
  • Ms. Michelle Kelly, Ph.D. Graduate Student
  • Ms. Nicole Roeper, MS, Director, Pre-Health Professions, and Instructor
  • Mr. Hunter Roose, MS Graduate Student

We are very proud of these achievements, and we thank them and you all for fulfilling the educational mission of our university!

The departmental student rating average for Spring 2023 was 4.51 out of 5. Since 2013, our faculty, staff, and students have been in this top 10% of teachers list 162 times.

Amy Marcarelli Receives the 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award

Amy Marcarelli
Amy Marcarelli

Amy Marcarelli, a professor in Biological Sciences, has received the 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award in the category of Associate Professor/Professor. Dr. Marcarelli is an ecosystem ecologist with an interest in energy and biogeochemical cycles in freshwaters. Her research program blends basic and applied research and integrates across aquatic habitats including stream, river, wetland, lake littoral zones, and the nearshore regions of the Great Lakes.

“That’s fantastic news. Amy is not just passionate about educating the next generation of students but also very kind to her students and creative with her courses. We greatly appreciate her dedication and contributions to the teaching mission of Michigan Tech,” Chandrashekhar Joshi, the Department Chair of Biological Sciences, said.

Dr. Marcarelli said, “Thank you to all of my colleagues in the Biology Department for creating a community where teaching is valued, where we learn from and support each other in our teaching journeys, and where student success is the top priority in and out of the classroom.  I believe that community is why we have had such success in this award, with many more who have been nominated (and with awards in their futures, I’m sure!).  I am inspired by you, and grateful to have you as colleagues and friends.”

Since 1982, a Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award is presented annually in each of two categories: Associate Professor/Professor and Assistant Teaching Professor/Associate Teaching Professor/Teaching Professor/Professor of Practice/Assistant Professor.

Since 1999, a group of five finalists in each of the two categories is selected based on student ratings of instruction completed during a calendar year. All instructional personnel who received at least 35 student ratings during spring and fall semesters within that calendar year are eligible except for those who are previous winners, department chairs, teaching assistants, temporary hires, etc. Eligible faculty are ranked by their cumulative average of the 7-Dimensions on the survey for the given year. The top 5 in each category are selected as finalists.

On behalf of the students, staff, and faculty in the Biological Sciences department, we congratulate Dr. Marcarelli for winning the 2023 Distinguished Teaching Award. It is a terrific achievement. We thank you for your excellent contributions to Michigan Tech’s critically important teaching mission.

In Print: Trista Vick-Majors

Congratulations to Trista Vick-Majors and colleagues who recently published a paper titled “Constraints on the Timing and Extent of Deglacial Grounding Line Retreat in West Antarctica” in AGU Adventures.

Graph indicating the subglacial core locations along with filling and draining amounts
(a) Southern Ross Sea sector ice streams with previous subglacial core locations (Whillans Subglacial Lake (SLW; Tulaczyk et al., 2014), Whillans Grounding Zone (WGZ; Venturelli et al., 2020), the upstream site at of Whillans Ice Stream (UpB; Engelhardt & Kamb, 1997), and Crary Ice Rise (CIR; Bindschadler et al., 1988) marked with gray circles, Mercer Subglacial Lake (SLM) indicated with a purple circle, and the lake directly upstream Conway Subglacial Lake (SLC) labeled. Ice velocity (Mouginot et al., 2019) is overlain on an imagery mosaic (Scambos et al., 2007), with active subglacial lake areas (blue polygons; Siegfried & Fricker, 2018), hydropotential flow paths (blue lines; Siegfried & Fricker, 2018), and grounding line (black; Depoorter et al., 2013) indicated. (b) Volume changes in Mercer Subglacial Lake inferred from CryoSat-2 radar altimetry (Siegfried et al., 2023) with a yellow star marking the timing of sampling.


Projections of Antarctica’s contribution to future sea level rise are associated with significant uncertainty, in part because the observational record is too short to capture long-term processes necessary to estimate ice mass changes over societally relevant timescales. Records of grounding line retreat from the geologic past offer an opportunity to extend our observations of these processes beyond the modern record and to gain a more comprehensive understanding of ice-sheet change. Here, we present constraints on the timing and inland extent of deglacial grounding line retreat in the southern Ross Sea, Antarctica, obtained via direct sampling of a subglacial lake located 150 km inland from the modern grounding line and beneath >1 km of ice. Isotopic measurements of water and sediment from the lake enabled us to evaluate how the subglacial microbial community accessed radiocarbon-bearing organic carbon for energy, as well as where it transferred carbon metabolically. Using radiocarbon as a natural tracer, we found that sedimentary organic carbon was microbially translocated to dissolved carbon pools in the subglacial hydrologic system during the 4.5-year period of water accumulation prior to our sampling. This finding indicates that the grounding line along the Siple Coast of West Antarctica retreated more than 250 km inland during the mid-Holocene (6.3 ± 1.0 ka), prior to re-advancing to its modern position.

O-fish-ally Fin-tastic Research!

Tessa Tormoen is a fourth-year student majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology with a minor in fish biology. She is one of the most adventurous people you’ll ever meet. You can often find her cross-country skiing on the Swedetown and Tech Trails. Not only is she a fan of heart-racing adventures, but her curiosity has also led to her getting involved in undergraduate research. Throughout Tessa’s classes, she learned the basic skills and processes needed in the lab. Her confidence grew. She was ready to put these skills into practice and take on an independent project. In the fall of 2021, she discussed her interest with Dr. Kristin Brzeski, assistant professor at Michigan Tech.

A picture of Tessa in the lab using a pipette to transfer a sample.
Tessa in the lab

Fishing for DNA

Dr. Brzeski put Tessa to work observing Golden and Blueline Tilefish. She extracted DNA from the digestive tracts of predator fish and constructed what the taxonomic group looks like by using a method called Metabarcoding, which is a process of DNA sequencing and identification. Using this technique she was able to characterize the dietary composition of the two different tilefish species to better determine the species’ niche breadth (or use of food resources in this case) and degree of similarity. This is one factor showing how the two species co-exist.

Like any craft, it’s a continual learning process. Working alongside graduate students and mentors, she developed her independent problem-solving and management technique. Learning the ins and outs of research was a steep learning curve, but Tessa was able to gain valuable skills and knowledge during her time as a researcher. “It’s a joy to have an undergraduate like Tessa in the lab. She brings passion, intelligence, and a genuine interest in research and natural resource conservation to every interaction,” said Dr. Brzeski.

Tessa exhibited her research at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium, winning the third place GLRC award. She also won a merit award at the Ecosystem Science Center poster session. And she presented her findings at the Wildlife Society National Conference in Spokane, Washington with others in her lab.

Tessa is presenting her research to an audience by referring to a poster. The audience is pictured from behind.
Tessa presents her research “Using DNA Metabarcoding to Evaluate Dietary Resource Partitioning Between Two Sympatric Tilefish” at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium

A Close-Net-Bunch

Tessa believes that her experiences in research have helped shape the future for the better. “I’m a lucky person. I’ve had an incredible four years. Jill Olin and Kristin Brzeski [have] built me into an independent scientist. They taught me how to solve problems, how to be independent and confident in my abilities,” she says. She credits both graduate and undergraduate colleagues in the lab with perpetuating the culture Drs Brzeski and Olin cultivated. “It was a welcoming and hopeful atmosphere.”

That feeling extends to the department. “Everyone is extremely kind, no matter who you talk to! All of my professors throughout my coursework have been very approachable and extremely passionate about what they study. I love that the biological sciences department is so personal and you can build relationships with the faculty. It truly makes the department’s environment so incredible. The support I have received from my advisor and my professors has been a valuable part of my education. I also love how the biological sciences department is a bit smaller compared to other departments like engineering. Each semester I recognize many familiar faces. I’ve been able to create great relationships with my peers through this,” Tessa said.

The Water is Just Right at Michigan Tech

Like many before her, Tessa chose to study ecology and evolutionary biology at Michigan Tech because she fell in love with this area. “I realized that I have a passion for understanding the world around me and this is a beautiful place to do that,” she said. “Plus, the experiences you’re able to have in this degree are fantastic, and I was compelled by the sheer amount of opportunities available to me.”

Tessa appreciated the flexibility the ecology and evolutionary biology degree program offered. “A lot of the coursework is electives that you get to choose from, so you can tailor your education to what you are most interested in. Thus, I was able to take courses like Mammalogy, Tropical Island Biology, Valuing the Great Lakes, Botany, and more!” Tessa said. “Sometimes you get to go outside for classes; one of my biggest memories from my degree is my Tropical Island Biology course, where we stayed in the Bahamas over Spring Break. This degree program has given me such a strong foundation and a whole list of interests that I can build upon with secondary education and post-education work experience.”

Tessa Tormoen
Tessa Tormoen enjoys the views of Portage Lake from the Biological Sciences Lounge

In addition to research and the degree program, Tessa took advantage of other opportunities on campus. She served as vice president of the Ski and Snowboard Club. Tessa also coordinated activities as part of the Women’s Leadership Council.

Leaving the School: Tessa’s Post-Graduation Plan

Following commencement this month, Tessa plans to “go with the flow.” This summer, you’ll find her on Isle Royale working as a fisheries technician, performing limnological assessments and fish surveys on their inland lakes. “I’m excited about this opportunity as it honestly feels like a dream job,” she said.

After taking one year to work in the field and gain more experience, Tessa wants to return to school for her master’s degree and potentially a Ph.D. “I think my experience at Michigan Tech has helped me greatly in understanding the opportunities available to me after graduation. I think that my education, research experience, and relationships at Tech have set me up for success once I leave,” she said.

We are certain her future will go swimmingly well!

29th Annual Student Leadership Awards: BioSci Recipients

Several students in our department were recipients of the 29th Annual Student Leadership Awards this year in recognition for their truly incredible accomplishments! Please join us in congratulating them!

Student Employee of the Year:
Enioluwa Wright
Human Biology with a Pre-Health minor

Rising Star of the Year:
Riley Stichter
Human Biology with Pre-Health and Public Health minors

Department Scholar:
Haley Marchese
Medical Laboratory Science with a Pre-Health minor

The keynote speaker, Dr. Jessica Thompson (Thoresen) ’12 (B.S., Biological Sciences), was also recognized as the recipient of the 2023 Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

More information about the awards and the recipients can be found on the Student Leadership Awards webpage. We also invite everyone to save the date for the 30th Annual Student Leadership Awards Ceremony, which will be held April 12, 2024, in the MUB Ballroom.

Enioluwa Wright
Enioluwa Wright
Riley Stichter
Riley Stichter
Haley Marchese
Haley Marchese

Call for Applications: 2023 Songer Research Award for Human Health

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition, the Songer Research Award for Human Health, for undergraduate and graduate students. Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students.

Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have a broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. The Songers’ gift and matching funds from the College will support two awards for undergraduate research ($4,000) and two for graduate research ($6,000), for research conducted over the Summer of 2023 and/or the following academic year.

Learn more about who is eligible to apply, how to apply, and how the funds may be used.

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 24, 2023. Applications may be emailed to djhemmer@mtu.edu. Any questions may be directed to David Hemmer (djhemmer@mtu.edu).